After her husband, Dick Verley, experienced life threatening health issues and was rushed by ambulance to the Minnesota VA hospital in Minneapolis, Liz Verley of Royalton followed.
“He went by ambulance and I followed. I didn’t have anything with me, since I didn’t expect to spend the night,” she said.
That was back in the 1990s and it was the first time she was introduced to the Fisher House, a non-profit foundation which offers family members of veterans a place to stay while their loved one is receiving medical care.
While the Fisher House has a shared kitchen area for family members with a commercial refrigerator and freezer they can keep personal food stored in, the organization provides food, as well. It was something Liz was very thankful for while she stayed at their house.
Liz stayed at the Fisher House again last year for the duration Dick was in the hospital. Having different health issues, he was hospitalized during the months of August, September and December 2021, as well as earlier this year in February.
“It’s such a great place and I just want people to know that it is there for family members of veterans,” Verley said.
There are currently 92 Fisher Houses located across the United States, Germany and United Kingdom. Two of the houses are in Minneapolis, said Manager Kim Bihm.
Founded by Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher, the first two Fisher Houses were built in 1992. The two also dedicated more than $20 million to the construction of the first 15 homes that were built. Then, in 1993, the Fisher House Foundation was established as a non-profit organization to coordinate the program, Bihm said.
The Fisher Houses in Minneapolis were built in 1995 and 2011.
While the program had its start in the 1990s, Bihm said the history of the Fisher homes, in a sense, began during the World War II era. Zachary had wanted to serve in the war with his two brothers, but was unable to do so because of a leg injury he received in a prior construction accident. Instead, he used his construction skills to assist the U.S. Coastal Service in building coastal fortifications.
“He was in real estate development and actually created the skyline in New York City,” Bihm said.
Several years later, when Zachary visited the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Bihm said he learned that some of the admitted veterans’ families were sleeping in their cars while they were visiting their loved one, as they lived many miles from the hospital and could not afford to stay at a hotel. It was also a concept he could somewhat relate to. Living 75 miles away from the VA hospital, sometime before the 1990s, he drove to the hospital the night before and spent the night in his car, so he could be on time for his appointment the following day, Bihm said.
“With no accommodations for the families at the medical center, Mr. Fisher knew that he wanted to do something about that. Since he was a builder, he was the one who actually developed the idea of constructing a place where families of veterans and also the military service members that could stay free of charge at the VA health care systems on the grounds,” she said.
Bihm said the two Fisher Houses in Minneapolis are located right across from the hospital and provide free temporary lodging for family members of veterans or active duty service members who are receiving medical care at VA hospitals and major military medical centers.
In addition, Bihm said, another facility referred to as “Building 10,” is where veterans can stay the night before an outpatient appointment. It was also where the family of the veteran stayed during the first night and then, if he or she was admitted, was moved to the Fisher House. To make it more efficient and easier on the family, Bihm said in cases where it’s already known the veteran will be admitted, such as after an open heart surgery, the family is lodged at one of the Fisher Houses right away. The veteran then stays with the family the night before the appointment, she said.
Bihm said the staff at Fisher House strives to make the home comfortable. It also allows family members to be close to their loved ones during their medical crisis and to focus on what’s important, such as the healing process.
To be eligible to stay at the Fisher House, the family must live more than 50 miles away or have more than a two hour drive to the VA in Minneapolis.
The accommodations at the two Fisher Houses in Minneapolis include 28 guest suites with a shared and spacious kitchen, a large family room, living room, laundry room and a dining room. Depending on the family’s need, guests sleep on either a queen size bed or two full-size beds. Each room also has a private bathroom and shower, Bihm said.
All the suites in the second Fisher House are handicapped accessible. It also has an elevator. Free parking is available to the families, as well.
To make it easier for family members, the Fisher House has a shuttle that provides transportation between the Fisher Houses and the VA Medical Center, Monday through Friday. On weekends and after hours, the VA Police also assist with transportation, Bihm said.
Bihm said the families who stay at the Fisher House often connect with other families. While each have their unique story and background, they still share similar stories, Bihm said.
“They listen and really support one another. We’ve had several families that ended up sharing their cellphone numbers, so they can continue the support and friendship after leaving the Fisher House,” Bihm said.
It’s something Liz experienced while she was there, as well. The support and friendship from other family members made a difference.
“You meet nice people and it’s just like talking to your family. You can just sit and talk. They understand what you’re going through,” Liz said.
Last year, when Liz stayed at the Fisher House, other family members from the Verley family were able to come visit, too. It meant a lot to them all that they had a place to stay when Dick was hospitalized.
“It’s a home away from home,” Liz said.
As the Fisher House Foundation is a non-profit organization, Bihm said the operation of the Fisher House is possible because of people’s donations.
To donate, visit www.fisherhouse.org and search for the Fisher House in Minnesota under “houses” to donate directly to the Fisher House in Minneapolis.
Checks can be made out to Minneapolis VA Health Care System with Fisher House written in the memo and mailed to Minneapolis VA Health Care System, 1 Veterans Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55417.
The Fisher House accepts other donations that are used in the operation of the two homes or are given to the families.
Minneapolis VA Fisher House Wish List
- Visa, Mastercard gift cards
- Walmart, Target
- Aldi, Cub Foods, Hy-Vee
- Stir crazy popcorn popper
- Air popper popcorn popper
- 18V Cordless Compact Workshop blower and battery
- Portable mosquito zappers (2 each)
- Bird seed - large bags
- Sunflower seeds for birds - large bags
- Bird feeders
- Suet and Suet Feeders
- Saran wrap
- Aluminum foil
- Glad wrap
- Wax paper
- Parchment paper
- Plastic storage containers, various sizes
Pantry and Freezer Items (name brand only)
- Cereal - individual servings
- Variety pack of cooked cereals (i.e. oatmeal)
- Peanut butter
- Jelly/jam/apple butter - all squeezable
- Orville Redenbacher's popcorn - 2 jars
- Nutragrain, granola and protein bars
- Mixed nuts - individual packs
- Cheese crackers - individual packs
- Chips - individual packs
- Cookies - individual packages
- Paper towels
- Kitchen dishtowels and wash cloths
- Paper napkins
Personal Care Items
- Sunscreen 50 - 12 small bottles
- Deet free bug spray - 12 small bottles
- Sewing kit - 2 kits
- Tooth paste - small/travel size
- 20 oz bottle of handsoap Softsoap - 12 each
- Dawn liquid dish soap - 12 each
- Endust or Pledge - 4 each
Please, call the Fisher House at (612) 467-5602 or email Kimberly.email@example.com to discuss up-to-date needs prior to making a purchase and to coordinate a donation droppoff date and time.